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Runner Safety Part 2: Pandemic Running

It’s been 5 weeks since most of the nation entered some form of “Stay Home” and “if you must go outside, wear a mask!” It’s clearly getting to us- my social media feeds have been covered with call-outs, shaming rule-breakers, especially runners. “Why doesn't everyone just comply already? It's the safe and unselfish thing to do! Stay HOME unless you NEED to be outside, but be SURE you go outside every day to exercise or you will become 15 pounds LESS HEALTHY, so stay inside unless you exercise and wear a mask WHENEVER you go outside unless you exercise but don’t do that unless you really NEED TO and everyone NEEDS TO. How is this not clear??? JUST DO IT DON’T BE SELFISH!”

Shame isn’t an effective form of behavior modification, but calling someone out can produce a much-needed dopamine surge in a bad moment. People who pride themselves on being overachievers, planners, or givers-of-only-right-answers are feeling an extra layer of anxiety right now when the ‘right answer’ isn’t always obvious or clear. It’s easier to do nothing than face a public shaming for doing something obviously wrong or selfish in a time of crisis, but what do you do when all of the advice is conflicting and confusing? We asked three of our clients, who happen to be doctors, to talk us through their own decision-making processes to help us figure out what’s safe for us as well as for others right now.

Runner wearing a neck gaiter from Fitness Protection Program that says "If you can read this then you are too close"


On April 13 a long dormant group text chain started lighting up. “Did you see what someone did to Heather?” Later, when the story was shared by multiple people in my social media feed, I realized the Heather in question lives in Centennial, CO, where my former run program was based.

Heather is a 911 dispatcher with three young children. Her neighbors didn’t know this, and sent her a nasty note shaming her for leaving the house during a pandemic and proceeded to make a LOT of incorrect assumptions about her life and the choices she makes. It was nasty, unneighborly, and Heather is far more gracious than I would be about it.

The world is changing quickly, and even those of us who were relatively unaffected at the beginning are really starting to feel the strain of doing everything from home. Though I still think it’s bad form, I can totally understand the forces that would have one homebound person watching another out her window coming and going at will, and snap. "HOW SELFISH. YOU ARE THE REASON THIS IS GOING ON SO LONG! IT’S NOT FAIR YOU JUST COME AND GO AS YOU PLEASE!"

If you have been conditioned to fear giving a wrong answer or doing the wrong thing, the constant cries of “SELFISH!” can be as paralyzing as the looks you get for running without a mask. It can be hard to think clearly, especially when the directions conflict. “Stay indoors, unless you need to go outdoors because if you don’t go outdoors to exercise you’ll go crazy AND GET FAT not sure which is worse? But one thing is CERTAIN: healthy is indoors unless it’s outdoors. And FOOD that is indoors is safe unless it’s been outdoors then it’s exposed…” you get the picture.

So, what does safe look like? We discussed skin coverings and skin colorings last week in Part 1 of this series, in Part 2 we are going to ask our Fitness Protection Program Participant doctors whether they run in masks and if we should start.


  • Do I need to run in a mask?

  • How do I "support" my immune system?

  • Will running 5 hours with a heart rate under 140 compromise my immune system? Where is the line, when does the compromise begin?

  • Should I run with a mask of any sorts if my only contact is overtaking (ok let's be real being overtaken ha) for 2/3 seconds?

  • When I am coming up on another person, am I safer if I hold my breath for a few seconds?

  • Is there a such thing as too much running outdoors? I'm outside jogging nearly daily, and my long jogs top out at 6 hours. I live in the suburbs of NJ: my state has the second-highest number of cases in the country. I'm hearing advice that runs the gamut: all of it includes social distancing, but after that it gets confusing: can I stick to my long outdoor training sessions, or is there a transmission.-related reason to make my jogs shorter?

  • Does sunlight kill the virus? I realize different living situations may call for different behaviors, but it's hard to know what the best course of action is. Thank you!

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Coach MK Fleming is the founder of Fitness Protection, LLC. Click HERE to download her most popular training plan, Tenacious AF, free!

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